The lower Stanislaus river below goodwin dam: 3/22/10. Flow 340 CFS. Sunny and 70 degrees
It was odd day on the Stan. First off there was no other anglers there but me. That was the amazing part of this much needed river sojourn that happened to be doubling as a much needed mental health day. I had my eight and a half 5/6 wt bamboo hardy with me, which I've decided is totally inappropriate for this river, its too full flex for nymphing. When I got to the hot spot under the dam, I noticed two gentlemen in dive gear. They were from a private company called fish-bio, and they were shooting footage of wild trout. We had a friendly exchange on the river bank. They confirmed the rumor about the presence of large steelhead in the river. The rest of the day kind of defied expectation, especially in light of the data nature was giving me about how fish should of been responding. There was a tremendous may fly hatch, that lasted hours, and in the background behind that there was the usual midge activity. Despite the biomass there was scarcely a trout around to rise to these abundant insects. I must of spent hours in a spot where I know fish stack up. Nothing was working. I did miss a bunch of strikes, not because I didn't see or feel them, but rather because the bamboo I was using was not firm enough to allow for a fast hook set in current. A modern gear head might argue that this is another example of why graphite is superior, to which I would counter by telling him my 6wt Phillipson is being repaired. I'd probably also think to myself that he has no sense of aesthetics, and that artfulness is apart of catching fish by god! I digress.
I picked up the smallest trout I've ever caught on the Stan on a #20 zebra midge, that that happened after 4hrs. I decided that--hell--I'm fishing a british rod, might as well fish English. I tied on three soft hackles in tandem, and took off my indicator. This proved to be a good move--a nice 14" bow slammed my middle fly. At least I knew now, where they were feeding in the column. At this point I had worked hours and hours in a proven spot for just 2 fish. I broke for lunch. I get board of fishing in the same spots, and it has always amazed me why other anglers don't--odd. I decided to fish further down by the cable pool, per the fish-bio divers suggestion. I've fished this spot before to no avail, and it was no different this time. It was beautiful and very warm by this point as it was mid day, and not typically a good time to fish, as the sun was at it's zenith. The interesting and majestical thing about the Stan is that it is in a deep confined canyon, and up by the dam the sun has a harder time penetrating. The sun factor coupled with a lovely fine mist--makes for a pleasant spot to fish as the rest of the river heats up. I'm one for new experiences, a wonderer if you will...always curious about whats down the road, or in this case the river. The dam hadn't been productive, and I wasn't having any luck at the cable pool. In any event, I decided to have a look further down. I found a little animal path that took me quite a bit above the river onto a promontory be-speckled with spring wild flowers. Looking down I was wondering how I'd reach the river, as there was a very nice run, begging to fished. What happened next, I'm still thinking about... a little trout caught my eye, and next too him I got a good long look at a 20-24" rainbow, lazily picking stuff out of the current. The problem was he was on the same side of the bank that I'd be on once I got down there. I did in fact get down there and managed to cobble together the best cast I could to get at him, which unfortunately had to be right over the fish. This no doubt spooked him. I feel like these particular trout are very wary about what is above, as the canyon brings many birds of prey to a focal point. The potential of death from above, a bright mid day sun, and a cast straight over his back, no doubt put my wise quarry on high alert.
My day was pretty much over. I tried in a few more spots, but was ultimately satisfied with the two I caught. More importantly then the fish, was the discovery of a new spot. I plan to return to it especially when the dam is crowed, as maybe I'll have another chance at a trophy.
--Posted by David
So I’ve been reading the classic, Trout by Ray Bergman
and it has really got me not only thinking about how we’ve come to do things, but also about how fishing methods can become down right canonical. I’m not sure if this is just an American problem or if we’re all doomed to follow the piper of modernity, but it seems for all of our enthusiastic acceptance of the “newest thing”, we’ve somehow simultaneously sacrificed traditional methods. The new canon of fly fishing seems to leave out a lot of the old good stuff. I guess it really hit me when I was reading the introduction to Trout, by the modern innovator Gary Lafontaine. Mr. Lafontaine recounts a story of fishing Yellowstone a few years back, wherein he comes across a group of expertly outfitted ‘modern’ fly fishers, decked out from head to toe in the newest space-age commando gear. The trouble with these fellows is they couldn’t seem to catch a fish to save their lives, while all the while, Gary was…in the vernacular of the commando, “slaying them.” Turns out that Gary was fishing to the bank with a classic Bergman wet fly called the Light Polka
. The commandos were of course impressed, and in gentlemanly fashion Mr. Lafontaine provided them with a couple of extra Light Polkas he had on hand. Apparently brown trout can’t resist the color white.
The light polka
What intrigues me about wet flies is that that their application is not intended for the purpose of imitation; rather their use is one of approximation. We’ve become so entomologically obsessed, no doubt due to our need to make things as “high tech” as possible, that we’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water--so to speak. Science is good. Science belongs in fishing. Obsession with matching the hatch is the worst kind of “angling-science”--because it is too focused. Trying to imitate the exact insect is a kind of strange reductionism. Myopic reductionism is not creative. If we are going to be good scientists out there on the water, we have to think vertically and make sure that we are using all available tools in box. Tom Rosenbauer has said that Trout are a lot more interesting than bugs. It is his opinion that we’ve been spending too much time thinking about bugs and not enough on trout behavior. I couldn’t agree more, which brings me back to the discussion of the wet fly.
The wet fly is a lot of different things to a trout, depending on how you fish them. Take the Hornberg
(a winged wet fly) for example; this fly when fished dry, at the start of the swing, can be a caddis, a hopper, or a salmon fly. As it drowns, again it could be a caddis, and then when stripped back to you—it’s a baitfish. It is this kind of versatility that make a lot of wet fly patterns great. Our friends across the pond in the UK have never stopped using wet flies. In fact the patterns we are now calling “soft hackle” are derived from the wingless North Country Spiders
These patterns are deadly in so many situations…again not because of what they are, but rather because of what they could be. A spider or soft hackle is any number of emerging insects. The English and some open-minded Americans have caught many a large trout on these patterns. In fact there is a very interesting fellow keeping tradition alive down on the white river of Arkansas by the name of Davy Wotton
. Davy a British transplant to the U.S. advocates fishing wet flies in a side dropper rig formation. He like many other English anglers fish a “cast” of flies, which is usually about 3-4 flies rigged off of the sides of one’s leader. I must confess, I have not yet attempted this method, as I still just fish two flies one off the bend of the other. The multi spider or soft hackle set up is really interesting as it again does a lot of different things at once. Fishing these general-attractor-emergers all together in the water column approximates the natural phenomenon of aquatic bugs rising from the riverbed to the surface. This setup seems to increase ones chances of catching fish, as it not only presents flies at multiple depths, it presents that irresistible and vulnerable emergent form to each level of the column.
English style rig
Fishing tandem nymphs is not a lot different than stringing a couple of soft hackles together, but I’m interested in going for up to 3 fished English style. Lately I’ve been fishing a very small river in the western sierras. The river is very shallow, and I’ve found that fishing a couple of un-weighted soft hackles is a great method. You can fish them dry, and then drown them. I even find a greased leader to be excellent, especially when you suspect the trout are feeding in the film. Gary Lafontaine’s story has me inspired to explore the traditional winged wet fly. Imagine trout water with a good mix of both big rainbows and browns. That type of river is not only dynamic because of the various species within it, it is dynamic because that kind of river can hold and sustain two very different sub species. Browns and rainbows like very different types of water within the same river, and the great thing about a winged wet fly is that it can be very different things to different trout depending on where and how you fish them. Midcurrent has an excellent article about how to fish wet flies. I highly recommend it. --- Posted By David.
Silver Invicta - A Classic Winged Wet Fly